The tragic events in the Canadian province of Quebec last week that left six persons dead as well as the shooting incident at a Fort Lauderdale airport in early January that claimed five lives, underscore the reality that radicalization of thought and action can happen to any person, regardless of faith, race or social standing.
The term “radicalization” has been popping up much in recent years in relation to acts of terrorism carried out by Muslims. Self-radicalization also started making the rounds when it was found that some individuals who carried out these barbaric acts, were not directly or formally linked to any of the known terrorist groups.
It is a narrative that has found favour with many analysts and news agencies and has served, for them at least, to explain why such acts were taking place. A completely normal person suddenly becomes “radicalized” and carries out the most heinous acts of shooting and killing innocent persons. This radicalization became linked to terror groups like ISIS.
For some, this misguided narrative says that Islam teaches such hatred so expect it. For the vast majority of Muslims, Islam does not teach such hatred nor does it accept that killing innocent people is justifiable within the precepts of the faith. When words such as “radicalization” and “self-radicalization” are applied to a select few who carry out barbaric deeds, it portrays a different picture and makes finding a real and lasting solution even more difficult.
Persons who become entangled in the hate-filled agendas of organizations and personalities who thrive on chaos are deluded into thinking that what they are doing, is for the betterment of society. They get caught in an evil and dark place that makes them lose all rational thought. Once rationality goes out the window, then expect any number of possible tragic actions to take place.
In the case of Quebec last week, a 27-year-old Canadian student, Alexander Bissonnette, walked into the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, a mosque, and opened fire on persons praying there. In the aftermath of the shooting, six persons were dead and nineteen injured. While the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, called it an act of terrorism, the suspect has not been charged with terrorism. Neither has the term “radicalization” been applied to him. The suspect has been described as a “lone wolf”.
A glimpse into his life helps in building a profile. Between 2002 and 2004, Bissonnette participated in the Cadet Programme, a nationwide youth programme affiliated with the Canadian Armed Forces. Further to this, CBC Montreal writes in one news story: “Alexandre Bissonnette expressed fears during a Facebook exchange that the white race would be marginalized by immigration, the day before he was arrested in connection with the massacre at a Quebec City mosque, says a friend of the shooting suspect . . .
The story went on: “Former classmates and friends have described Bissonnette as gradually developing far-right views . . . Martin Robin, who met Bissonnette in 2014 at Laval University, said they interacted frequently on Facebook, including on the night before the shooting. During their online conversation that Saturday, Robin recalled asking his friend what he thought about U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily ban entry to travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
“He told me he just wanted white immigration to Canada and Quebec, exclusively.” He told me that in the long run, this non-white, non-European immigration may perhaps lead to the marginalization of whites.”
In another story, CBC Montreal paints an even more harrowing picture: “A shy chess-player, a bullied introvert, a moderate conservative turned far-right troll — these are the descriptions being offered of Alexandre Bissonnette since he was accused of perpetrating a deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque . . .
“Bissonnette appeared to enjoy discussing politics with select classmates at university. Jean-Michel Allard Prus, who took a politics class with Bissonnette, said they often debated with each other on Facebook. In these debates, Bissonnette expressed fairly mainstream conservative views. A hunter, he opposed gun control and was pro-Israel…But that was a year ago.
“I think . . . something happened. He radicalized a lot,” Prus said. “He seemed just a normal right-wing individual.
“He was not interested by our politics meeting because we are conservative and moderate right wing,” said Éric Debroise, a Laval University student and member of the discussion group.
“He is more far-right or alt-right.” Debroise described Bissonnette as nice but anti-social. In their meetings, he said, Bissonnette often spoke admiringly of U.S. President Donald Trump and the French far-right politician Marine Le Pen. Trump enjoys the support of the alt-right, a loosely defined political movement that includes white nationalists and white supremacists. The alt-right is known, too, for its army of online trolls who circulate racist memes and virulent attacks on perceived opponents.”
These reports of this Canadian student describes a person ‘radicalized” by racist views creating a damaged mind-set that made him capable, like all other radicalized individuals in the last few years, to carry out gruesome acts of terror on innocent people.
In the case of the shootings at the Fort Lauderdale airport, the picture emerges of a 26 year-old American citizen, Esteban Santiago Ruiz, who travelled from Alaska to Florida with a licensed firearm. On arrival in Fort Lauderdale, he opens fire at the airport, killing five persons and injuring six.
We know that Esteban Santiago Ruiz was a United States military veteran. He served in Iraq with US troops. According to his aunt, after his return from Iraq, she noticed changes in his mental health. She said: “He lost his mind”. In November 2016, he went into an FBI office in Anchorage and said he had terrorist thoughts. After evaluation and finding no ties to terrorism, the agency said they released him. He went on weeks later to take the lives of innocent civilians.
There are many reported cases of mental health issues related to American soldiers who have served and witnessed the gruesomeness of war. These persons can be described as having some form of radicalization because similar to those who run off and join groups like ISIS, these persons have lost much in the way of rational thought.
Misguidance and hatred come from many quarters. It is not the monopoly of any one group or religion. It is dangerous and gets even more dangerous when such hatred and bigotry gain power. Power by virtue of the gun or by virtue of politics. Some human beings can easily be deluded and lose all rationality. The persons who carry out murders or other vicious attacks for the sake of some drug-lord or some political leader or some ideology are no different. They share a common thread of irrational thought and behavior. They follow blindly misguidance.
The situation in the US today with white supremacists feeling emboldened by a Trump presidency is no different than misguided persons who feel empowered by the likes of ISIS.
As Johnny Silvercloud, who describes himself as a street photographer with a fierce sense of justice, writes on the website Afrosapiophile: “White Radicalization is a Reality . . . With an intricate collective of white supremacist websites, blogs, message board forums and conservative pundits, glued together with conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns . . . we are now facing a moment in modern history where white people are now becoming radicalized into white supremacy at an alarming rate. Where a man named Barry Goldwater campaigned as a blatant white supremacist and failed, Donald Trump did the same and succeeded.”
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)